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Marines to Get Fewer Assault Ships

The U.S. Marine Corps needs 38 amphibious assault ships for conducting crisis-response missions around the world but the sea service will likely have to settle for 33.

U.S. Navy officials have decided to cut five of these versatile ships to deal with the deep cuts to defense spending brought on by sequestration.

The 38-ship requirement comes out of a 2009 report the chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps submitted to Congress. It stated the Corps needs 38 ships to support two Marine Expeditionary Brigades conducting forced-entry operations.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces told Navy and Marine Corps officials they were concerned about the risks of reducing the requirement at a July 25 hearing.

“I continue to have reservations about the direction of the capacity and capabilities of our fleet, specifically our amphibious power projection capabilities,” Rep J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said, calling the plan another example of the “dismantling of the world’s greatest fighting force.”

Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley told lawmakers that the 33-ship forces “has been adjudged to meet the needs of the naval service within today’s fiscal limitations.”

Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, acknowledged the service’s 38-ship requirement, but said the needs of combatant commanders continue to exceed that capability as well.

Realizing this, the Corps created a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, or MaGTFs, and has positioned them in key strategic areas in the European and African Littorals, he said.

These land-based forces have been useful. In December Marines deployed to evacuate some personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Juba. They launched MV-22 aircraft from allied nations in southern Europe, but mission took 3,273 miles and lasted 15 hours, Paxton said.

“While successful in the mission accomplishment these forward-deployed elements, however, are limited in operational reach and sustainability once they are on the objective.”

Forbes and other lawmakers asked about the risks of going with 33 amphibious ships instead of 38.

The 38 amphibious ships are to ensure the Corps can conduct two, simultaneous operations involving assault elements from both MEBs, Paxton said. The challenge under the 33-ship plan is it’s likely that some ships would have to be pulled out of the maintenance yard early or a new ship would have to be put to sea too early, Paxton said. This stresses the capability of ships over time, he said. It takes longer to get them where they are going, and it’s often uncertain how long they can stay on station.

“There is a hard and fast requirement for 38 ships … but we agreed at least in paper and as recently as 2009 we can live in the fiscal constraints with 33,” he said.

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